Arts are key to redefining ageing

Leonard Cohen and Helen Reddy are both seniors, modelling the power of the arts to sustain later life.
Arts are key to redefining ageing

Image: Leonard Cohen Photo: coverlovers.com

As Commissioner for Senior Victorians (2013-2023), one of my responsibilities is to advocate for and promote the vital contribution made by seniors to our community life. Of course that includes promoting the importance of seniors being actively involved in, as well as enjoying, the enormous range of life experiences that the arts offer.

I was appointed as Commissioner for Senior Victorians in August 2013 and am delighted to have been the inaugural appointment to this role, the first of its kind by any state in Australia. The Government created the Commissioner role as part of its response to the parliamentary inquiry into ‘Opportunities for Participation of Senior Victorians.’

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One inescapable conclusion from the parliamentary inquiry is that each of us seniors benefits greatly if we ‘participate’ in community life. The importance of planning for lifelong participation was a strong message in the parliamentary inquiry – the increase in average life expectancy and improvements in health mean people can and should plan to be active well into their later years.

There are so many ways that participation in arts inspired initiatives and activities provide personal enjoyment, like listening to our favorite music, performer or band. Yet involvement in communities of interest, such as the arts, also caters to much more than personal interest. It enables a sense of connectedness, enhances our experience of community life, benefits our health and wellbeing and increases our understanding of the world around us.

I recall travelling to Shepparton to see, Golden Age of Colour Prints: Ukiyo-e, an exhibition of the art of three Japanese master printmakers from 1781-1801. How fantastic that this was presented in regional Victoria. Earlier that same year, I travelled to Canberra to visit the Gold and the Incas – Lost Worlds of Peru to view artifacts that I would never otherwise have seen first-hand.

In light of the ageing of the population, it is timely for our community to re-think the concept of ageing and what it means to get older. There is no doubt that seniors’ participation in the arts is helping our community to re-define ageing in very positive and proactive ways.

Firstly, there is the opportunity provided by so many of the different fields of the arts for continuing activity and participation in social and community life. From attending live performances to visiting art galleries and museums, there is an abundance of ways to enjoy ourselves socially through art.

Secondly, there is the inspiration provided by seniors who are icons in their fields. Consider the continuing contributions of international performers like Leonard Cohen or Helen Reddy. Much closer to home are people like Mirka Mora (now deceased), Seniors Festival Ambassador in 2010, and Hazel Phillips OAM, whose acting has provided so much enjoyment to audiences over the years.

Some have had their contributions acknowledged through the annual Senior of the Year awards, such as Marcello D’Amico, well known in multicultural arts, and Alan Hopgood, in recognition of his role with Melbourne Theatre Company and in television.

Thirdly, the arts provide people with the opportunity for rich experiences and life-long friendships. There is a huge range of local community arts activities, such as choral or dance groups, quilting or local amateur theatre groups that allow us to combine a personal interest with social activity. 

Many of these groups bring together people of different ages and allow our community to benefit from the wisdom and experience of seniors.

In a wider sense, by creating communities of interest, the arts contribute significantly to the challenge of making our community ‘age-friendly’ and supportive of seniors participation. A seminal report on ageing by the Myer Foundation nearly 15 years ago continues to strongly influence my thinking about this:

'If we act now we can help to create a fair, just and caring society that values and supports older Australians. To achieve this, our whole community will need to be involved. Together, governments, families and service providers must understand the scale of the challenges we are facing … Nothing less than a wholesale shift of attitudes is required if we are to develop an ‘aged friendly society’.

One cornerstone for our Victorian community, and our economy, is the extent to which those aged over 60 have the opportunity, desire and capacity to actively participate in the arts. Over the next decade close to 650,000 Victorians will approach retirement age. What an enormous opportunity this provides to continue and strengthen the contribution of seniors in the arts.

I urge all seniors to consider the broad range of opportunities for active and fulfilling involvement in the arts. There can be no doubt that participation in ‘arts’ activity has a special place in the lives of seniors.

Update: In May 2019, the Victorian Government announced the reappointment of Gerard Mansour as the Commissioner for Senior Victorians until 2023.

Gerard Mansour

Monday 7 April, 2014

About the author

Gerard Mansour is Commissioner for Senior Victorians.